Will 'Rent-a-Judges' Hold Secret Proceedings?

Article excerpt

A proposed rule that is feared will allow the closure of court proceedings by "rent-a-judges" has stirred a protest by a California journalists' group and media lawyers.

Terry Francke, executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition (CFAC), told E&P that he has alerted its members to the recommendation, which has been made to the state Judicial Council.

In California and other states, litigants in civil suits can pay private judges to hear their cases and render decisions, which have the full weight of law. The advantage to the parties is that they can eliminate the years of waiting for a hearing because of back-logged court dockets.

The rent-a-judges are usually retired, or former jurists who have resigned. Some also engage in private law practice.

The proposal by a special committee of the Judicial Council states that anyone can request by letter that a case' before a private judge be "deemed of public interest" and give a reason.

If a supervising judge decides that the case is of public interest, he or she can order the proceedings to be held in a regular public courtroom, using court personnel and a jury.

CFAC has interpreted the committee's recommendation as posing a threat to open court hearings.

Coalition president Bob Rawitch, a Los Angeles Times editor, told the Los Angeles Daily Journal: "We believe all matters before private judges ... should be presumed open to the public unless there is a strong showing why they should be closed. That is the very essence of the court system, so there is accounting to the public."

San Francisco Superior Court Judge Roy L. …

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